I apologize up front; this may be a rambling post.
For those you haven’t heard, Canadian author (among many other careers) Paul Quarrington died this morning at the age of 56. He had been suffering from lung cancer for some time, but his passing was still a sudden blow.
I barely knew Paul. I met him in person only one time, at a reading in Winnipeg, but I found him a very warm and approachable man. He had read (and remembered) my complimentary review in the Winnipeg Free Press of his novel Galveston, and we chatted for a few moments as he signed the five or so novels of his I had brought along. I remember recommending Taras Grescoe’s The End of Elsewhere as being a companion piece of sorts to his memoir The Boy on the Back of the Turtle. I thought he might enjoy Grescoe’s sense of humour.
A few years later, I contacted Paul by email to ask if he would consent to blurb my novel Shelf Monkey. I felt that he had been an influence on my style, and hoped against hope that someone I admired so intensely might actually like my work. I was delighted when he accepted, and seeing his words and name on my back cover was a thrill on a level I’ve rarely experienced.
When Paul was diagnosed with cancer, I did not contact him. I have had some dealings with cancer in my immediate family, and know the terrible toll it takes on both the patient and those around him. I could not find the words to convey my sorrow at his condition; I had grown to hate the platitudes and homilies I received from others when in similar circumstances, and could not find it in myself to repeat them. So, I remained silent, imagining that I would someday find the right way to express myself.
I missed my chance, and Paul never knew the deep admiration I held for him, both as a writer and as a person. He seemed like a genuinely good fellow; flawed, most definitely, but by all accounts a very nice guy. And I am a huge fan of his work; in the best of his novels (Whale Music, of course, but also Civilization, Galveston, The Ravine, and my personal favourite Home Game), he always managed to balance riotous humour with believable pathos, a balance not many can pull off. His novels could be devastatingly funny, but it was always rooted in character. And his ability to create characters of depth was astounding. The bloated musician in Whale Music, the deluded magicians in The Spirit Cabinet, the grand eloquence of King Leary himself; Paul’s gift for character was just that, a true gift that he shared with us all.
Paul Quarrington has passed away, but his work will live on. I hate like hell that he won’t be around to share more stories with us, but I love him for the tales he told.